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Tales from the Trail: Leave the Expectations at the Office

Published On: Mar 12 2014 04:45:00 PM AKDT

"But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!"

- Robert Burns; 1785

It wasn’t the cold temperatures, the 33-hour work shifts, the dislocated shoulders, the numbed appendages or any of the stress and frustrations that accompanied following the 2014 Iditarod race trail -- it was everything.

After 11 days on the trail, Dallas Seavey has been declared the 42nd Iditarod winner while at least 28 mushers continue their journey to Nome and I am back in a comfortable office, writing a post-mortem about a race I merely observed. I learned a lot about the race, however, and I learned a lot about myself in the process. For instance, working a 33-hour shift over 48 hours is totally possible, but one still isn’t able to accomplish every task in that amount of time.

Following the Iditarod trail was unlike anything I had ever done as a journalist. As prepared as I thought I was, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Comparing my experience to what the mushers had to endure would be ridiculous and unfair, though, and that’s not what this reflection is about. Every night I had somewhere warm to sleep and I could expect some kind of meal cooked in a kitchen. Without getting hyperbolic, my perspective has changed.

I’ve been told I chose one heck of a year to be introduced to the Iditarod, and I believe it. I never thought I'd be putting my bush pilot’s shoulder back in the socket in Ruby when I set out on the trail. That might have been the moment I realized I had signed up for something much more than just some typical race.

There have been plenty of writers to cover this race before, and people on my team are much more experienced at this than I. It’s great to be able to commiserate with them on some level, but I still don’t feel like I’ve done something they haven’t seen many times before. In short, I still have a lot to learn.

Internet connection and cell service are highly sought commodities when trying to file stories in places like McGrath, Ruby and Unalakleet, especially when every other reporter in town is trying to get a piece of what little service is available. However, it was a good excuse to pull back and take in as much of the sights as possible -- at least for someone who hasn’t seen some of these places before.

I refuse to listen to those who say, “Once you’ve seen one village, you’ve seen them all.” If there is any bit of truth to that statement, I suppose it would only reflect the genuine hospitality observed by village locals. I’ll never get over the sincere generosity displayed by the people I’ve met in Tanana, McGrath, Unalakleet and Ruby. Beyond that, Unalakleet’s rugged coastal village had charms wholly unique compared to lush forested areas of McGrath. Ruby’s scenic hills contrasted well with Tanana’s rustic river setting.

Following the Iditarod trail was an experience unlike any other I have experienced. The characters, the places, and everything that went into producing each piece of content has a story in and of itself, all unforgettable in their own respect. For all the weird, wonderful and wild experiences Alaska has to offer, I found following the race trail managed to encapsulate many of those qualities in one trip.

Though the race isn’t over for the remaining 28 mushers still on the trail, my involvement with is finished. At least this year it is, anyway. And while I haven’t fully committed to covering the race again this year, I certainly won’t rule out the possibility. Covering the race again would come with experience next time, a basis for comparison to improve upon the coverage.

The race provides so many avenues to do something unique, which is part of the allure. If there is one thing I learned about the race this year was nothing is guaranteed -- and that lesson applied to just about every experience I saw on the trail and behind the scenes. That lesson may be the only expectation I could set for the Iditarod.